Edmonton Oilers forwards Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl attended the Biosteel camp ahead of NHL training camps. McDavid didn’t skate at the camp, while Draisaitl answered some questions about Jesse Puljujarvi’s desire to be traded and signing in Finland. This spawned an article from Cathal Kelly in The Globe and Mail about McDavid’s lack of enthusiasm for the upcoming season and ditto for Matt Larkin and The Hockey News about Draisaitl.
Naturally, Oilers fans weren’t happy to read this, especially coming from Toronto of all places. The Oilers franchise cornerstone didn’t skate, which set off concerns he may not be ready for the season, and the two best players on the team look, well, less than enthusiastic before the season is about to start.
McDavid didn’t give an emphatic yes when he was asked if he thinks the Oilers will make the playoffs and I don’t blame him. McDavid and Draisaitl aren’t dumb guys. They can see the roster moves made by Ken Holland. Sure, dumping Milan Lucic for James Neal is a win, but Neal was equally bad for the Flames as Lucic was for the Oilers last season. Markus Granlund, Mike Smith, Josh Archibald, and Joakim Nygard aren’t going to turn this thing around. This year is most likely another building season, with the playoffs only if almost everything goes right. The 2019-20 Oilers don’t look like a playoff thing.
It’s not an Edmonton thing, it’s a McDavid thing. Like it or not, when the Oilers won the McDavid lottery in 2015 it brought a ton of attention to a team that struggles to make the right decision more often than not. Many people thought there was no way the Oilers could mess up the situation McDavid came into, with multiple high draft picks already in the fold, and, well, they found a way.
It’s a big deal. McDavid might be a top-five player of all time and the Oilers only made the playoffs once in his first four seasons. They had two 100-point players, including a 50-goal scorer, and were 11 points back of the playoffs in a historically poor year to make the cutoff.
McDavid is thrilling to watch. Any season where he isn’t putting on a show in the playoffs is a crime. The 2016-17 playoffs were exciting. The atmosphere around Edmonton was incredible.
I get it. There’s inherent tribalism with sports fandom. You can criticize your team, but it’s different coming from other fans or media. But that’s the reality when a team with a generational talent is floundering.
Since 2005-06, we haven’t seen a team handle a superstar like the Oilers have with McDavid.
I’ve included players within thirty percent of McDavid’s points per game in his first four seasons (1.30 ppg).
McDavid is part of the elite players to enter the league since 2005-06. He’s sandwiched between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. He’s that good. Evgeni Malkin is trailing those three then there’s a drop between that group and Steven Stamkos, Nicklas Backstrom, Auston Matthews, Patrick Kane, and Paul Stastny.
You could argue McDavid’s Oilers aren’t that far off Ovechkin’s Capitals or even Stamkos’ Lightning. Ovechkin’s Capitals made the playoffs Ovechkin’s third and fourth years. The Capitals didn’t miss the playoffs again until 2013-14. Stamkos made the Eastern Conference Finals in his third season. The Lightning took a step back the following two seasons. Neither situation is really comparable to McDavids. Washington was trending up and Stamkos wasn’t on the same level as McDavid.
The only players to have even less team success in their first four seasons are Jack Eichel and Taylor Hall. Eichel’s Sabres have arguably worse than McDavid’s career with the Oilers, but Eichel isn’t McDavid. There’s been a significant gap between the two players every year of their careers. 2018-19 was the first season Eichel finished above a point per game, although he came close in injury-shortened seasons in 2016-17 and 2017-18. McDavid’s never had a season below one point per game.
The Oilers lack of success with McDavid is bound to attract attention.
Imagine if Crosby only made it to the playoffs once in his first four seasons. Or if Ovechkin’s Capitals were a fairly safe bet to miss the playoff in his fifth season. There’d be a daily thinkpiece in every Canadian city.
It won’t stop until the Oilers show they’re a competent NHL franchise. Peter Chiarelli couldn’t do it, but maybe Holland can achieve that in the next couple years. In the meantime, the Oilers will be rightfully criticized for their lack of success with one of the games best young players. Oilers fans would be roasting the Leafs or the Flames if they fumbled a superstar similar to McDavid.
Oilers fans, don’t take it personally. It’s not you, it’s me(agar) results with an elite superstar.